On Traveling Anxiety

It’s easier to sit in one spot rather than get up and do something different. That one spot is familiar and it is safe. A soldier friend of mine told me that during his time in the military, his unit would move locations as often as every 48 hours. His unit lived and breathed with the ability to change their location often.

He recalled that there were times when they would arrive at a new location during a fierce storm. He would be huddled up in his one person tent with the wind beating on him. It was cold and wet, but that location was his and felt like home. He was reluctant to move again. If a soldier felt this unwillingness to move from a stormy wet location, I could easily feel the hesitation I had with leaving a comfortable place for the unknown.

A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for — Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

I haven’t been big on solo travel. I’ve traveled on business and organized trips, but to travel solo has felt odd in my gut. I’d rather stay home. I thought the reasoning behind this feeling was simply because I didn’t want to travel much. Since I have more introverted qualities, it made sense.

Then I asked if there was a reason behind this willingness to stay in one place.

I recalled traveling to different vacation spots with Mom when I was younger. I’m thankful for that because I was exposed to different locations and that made an impression that traveling was normal. She was an avid traveler and didn’t hesitate to go. The anxiety did not come from here.

One thing I do recall from early days was the phrase “why risk it?”. It shines vividly in my mind. On certain occasions when there was an opportunity to go meet up with some folks, I heard “why risk it?” from a family member. The phrase was well intentioned because it might have been a little snowy that day and the roads were not in optimal condition. On other days, the reason not to go was because it might have been late in the night. After hearing that and deciding to stay home, it felt normal to say NO because… why risk it?

Is that the only place this traveling discomfort came from? Probably not, and I’m sure there were other origins, but this one jumps out at me.

I recently went back to Mexico and this time by myself. There was no airport arranged transportation to the city, and I had to take taxi’s / collective vans to get to certain destinations. It was an immersive experience to the lesser known. This was where my Spanish speaking / comprehension abilities would have to stand up on their own. You know what? It was worth it!

I came back alive and almost fully well minus the fever I picked up there. The anxiety that was felt prior to the trip was an illusion. Once you’re moving and start your adventure, you live in the now. You live step by step because you’re not fully aware of the surroundings. You know that you’ll be safe overall, but the things you’ll see today are not written in stone for you.

I came back from the trip with a newly gained sense of confidence. I also reflected on the phrase why risk it?

To risk is to live.

Rising up too quickly from bed is a risk because you might pass out due to blood flow not getting to your head fast enough. Getting up in the morning and kneeling over the toilet is a risk because people have thrown out their backs doing that before. Getting into your car to drive to the store is a risk because you might encounter an accident. Listening to someone talk is a risk because that person might ask you to do something for them.

The name of the game is taking calculated risks. That means where the potential rewards are higher than the cost of the calculated risk. Going on travel does have costly risks where you could potentially pick up a disease, lose something, or have a moment when you feel lost. Those are temporary risks, and they are not debilitating. The rewards are potential rewiring of how your brain feels about the unknown and a stronger sense of confidence in exposing yourself to new locations by traveling. The reward is well worth the calculated risk.

If you too feel anxious before traveling, go within yourself and ask where that anxiety might have come from. I’m betting it was a learned behavior you picked up sometime in your youth from someone who meant well. If you adopt this understanding and realize it’s not really you, but just a learned behavior, you can then start to break out of it by getting comfortable with being uncomfortable in each moment.

Being Ready to Move

All countries grow and change with time. One decade you’re living in a peaceful and manageable society, and the next decade a war breaks that takes away your basic comforts of life. You’re middle aged and have to make a decision whether to take your family to another place and start a new life or sit through the war and hope you’ll come out alive. If you have traveling anxiety, it’ll paralyze you from making a decision that might be better for your family in the long run. Staying in a war-torn place will seem easier as traveling to a new land will seem overbearing.

A traveled person will understand internally that he could survive in places that seem foreign to him and will learn to adapt with time. An isolated person won’t have that opportunity to stay or leave, and even if they do end up leaving somehow, they’ll feel paralyzed in a new place. They won’t attempt to learn the new customs, culture, and language of the new location. By failing to do that, they’ll be further isolated and cut off from life opportunities. That’s the end of the line.

Practice traveling today so that if fate one day forces you to do so against your will, you won’t be paralyzed and will be able to make your decision with clarity and adapt to the new location.